After putting together all the information, the three went over their possible next steps.
They felt that this matter wasn’t really a huge conspiracy. However, there was a rather strong sense of contradiction. They felt the mastermind seemed to want others to discover this secret that was hidden for many years. There was a strong sense of a confession. Yet on the other hand, whenever someone got close to the truth, he wanted to bury them here forever.
They had intended on finding the weirdo Ah Wu before, but it seemed this wouldn’t work. Huang Bo Heng had said she was extremely hard to find. Even if they found her, she had reason to fear telling the truth. It seemed like she had done something that incurred cruel punishment back then.
Ruan Zhan had desperately searched for Ah Wu for the sake of dissolving Wan Li’s Gu. Now Wan Li was fine, apart from risking starvation because he was unable to keep anything down.
As for his own life, although he also took it seriously, he no longer wanted to take a roundabout approach. He decide to follow the main investigation and settle things thoroughly.
He hadn’t wanted to disturb the villagers’ peaceful lives before. Yet now the matter was becoming more and more complicated, and seemed to have a lot to do with the past, he had no choice but to ask around. This was a remote mountain village so there weren’t many written records. They wouldn’t be able to find anything except via word of mouth.
“Fine. Let’s lay out all the evidence.” Wan Li acted like he was giving the closing statements of a trial. “Xiao Xia discovered some strange phenomenon during her legal cases. There were moving plants next to deceased victims, and even after cremation those strange seeds could grow into new plants.”
“I also saw that black cat at the non-profit law firm.” Xiao Xia added.
“That black cat links everything together. It’s like the host of a show.” Wan Li nodded. “Meanwhile, your unfortunate second boss Guan Zheng was killed because he discovered something. Before dying, he tortured a cat to death, and also left behind the dying message of Naman Village. And Ah Zhan, after selling his body, discovered that Huang Bo Heng and Yang Mu You are related to Naman. Therefore, we came here.”
“Also, Huang Bo Heng expressed deep interest in Xiao Xia back at the city already.” Ruan Zhan paused after speaking, feeling a little uncomfortable. “And we were attacked the moment we got here. Because you posed as Xiao Xia’s boyfriend, you were afflicted with a Death Gu. Xiao Xia was forced into a wedding and the opponent happened to be someone who could control plants and animals.”
“I have to correct you a bit.” Wan Li followed up. “You said Huang Bo Heng wasn’t an actual person. He was a puppet made from a corpse. Then he shouldn’t be capable of love or hate. His actions and reactions were all emotions from the puppet master. Therefore, the one interested in Xiao Xia wasn’t the mummy Huang Bo Heng, but rather the mastermind. Xiao Xia, do you have any secret admirers?”
“How should I know?” Xiao Xia blushed.
Ruan Zhan knew Wan Li was purposefully lightening the mood.
Wan Li had a carefree nature. The bigger the danger, the more he bantered. However, he didn’t want the shy Xiao Xia to feel awkward, and hurriedly got back on topic. “This question has a possible explanation: Huang Bo Heng, or rather the actual mastermind, had cast a Ghost Gu more terrifying than the Death Gu on the bride that died many years ago. Xiao Xia happens to look exactly like that bride. If this wasn’t the opponent’s illusion, then the reason Xiao Xia was chosen might very well be due to her appearance.”
“This means her appearance caused some feelings of loss and regret. Speaking of which, the bride that turned into the raincoat ghost is rather pitiful. What did you do with her?” Wan Li asked.
“Left her in the tattered banner. After becoming a Ghost Gu, unless the other party willingly releases her, the only path left is to be destroyed. Since Huang Bo Heng was just a puppet, the mastermind has to be the one to dissolve the Ghost Gu. Only then can she obtain her freedom. Better to wait inside the banner for now in case she gets directed to harm others!”
“Does this matter have anything to do with the groom from back then?” Xiao Xia asked.
“It’s very suspicious to say the least.” Ruan Zhan said. “Whether due to love or hate, he has the motive. Furthermore, he disappeared mysteriously and the villagers aren’t willing to talk about him.”
“In other words, he’s currently the only suspect. This is how police solve cases. If there aren’t enough clues, they will investigate what they have.” Wan Li suddenly laughed. “There’s another important piece of evidence. Ah Zhan went to dig up people’s graves. The special plants there were growing extremely well. This proves that both in the city and the woods, people who bullied their elders died violently. The murder method was the same as well. Therefore, we can definitely find the answer to everything here. The question is how are the mysterious groom, the beauty Ah Bai and her man Si Ma Nan, Yang Mu You, and the weirdo in the woods Ah Wu related? It seems we’ll have to find out from the villagers.”
“They seem to be avoiding this matter. There’s no way they’ll easily speak about it.” Xiao Xia raised the problem.
“That? You’ll have to rely on me, the talented psychiatrist!” Ignoring Ruan Zhan’s indistinct sneer, Wan Li was excited to display his strengths. “Ah Zhan previously mentioned that the villagers start hemming and hawing when asked about the groom and his family, as if they were afraid. This octagonal building and the forest weirdo Ah Wu also seem to be taboo topics. Xiao Xia said that she repeatedly saw the beauty Ah Bai appear here, and she was supposedly a famous witch. This makes things easy. It proves that the villagers are extremely superstitious and they revere witchcraft and sorcery. We can just make our move along those lines.”
“You mean to tell them some of the details?” Xiao Xia glanced at Ruan Zhan as she spoke.
“Relax. For superstitious folk filled with reverence, they definitely won’t be willing to tell the truth to anyone. Therefore, they won’t reveal Ah Zhan’s secret. Besides, you truly did have those visions. You can use the beauty Ah Bai’s voice to convince them later.”
Ruan Zhan and Xiao Xia both agreed with Wan Li.
The three discussed things for another while until day was about to break. Xiao Xia finally couldn’t hold on any longer and fell asleep leaning against Ruan Zhan.
“See, I told you she likes you more. You refused to believe me.” Wan Li said quietly. “We’re sitting in a row. Why doesn’t she lean on me to sleep?”
“What are you getting jealous over? She’s exhausted because of your matter, and suffered so much terror. How can she choose when she’s asleep?”
“A subconscious choice actually reflects one’s innermost desires. She feels deep down that you can keep her safe. However, don’t be smug. It’s a gentlemen’s duel. The final victor is still undecided!”
“I won’t fight over her with you.” Ruan Zhan looked at Xiao Xia’s sleeping face against his chest. “You forget I only have a year to live. Why would I make her suffer?”
“It’s not for certain yet!” Wan Li’s heart sank, but his expression was filled with confidence. “This is where we differ. I’m always optimistic, while you feel everything is already set in stone.”
Ruan Zhan didn’t speak. He didn’t want to refute Wan Li because he knew Wan Li was also uncertain. His father was the one who spoke of the “calamity of threes”. That was someone who had never been wrong in his predictions. He was someone immeasurably profound and highly skilled in the Daoist arts. Even his death had been extremely bizarre. How could his words be mistaken?!
“What did uncle say was the only way you could overcome this trial?” Wan Li asked.
“Only if a miracle occurs. Do you believe in miracles?”
“I don’t, but Xiao Xia does. Her most repeated phrase is: those who don’t believe in miracles will never get any miracles.”
Wan Li didn’t finish his thoughts. Although he didn’t believe in miracles, he believed that Xiao Xia appearing in Ruan Zhan’s life might be the will of the heavens. On the surface, it seemed like Xiao Xia had disturbed Ruan Zhan’s peaceful life, and brought countless trouble. However, what was the ultimate outcome? She might have been the one to save him from the darkness.
Dealing with some trouble in exchange for getting a cute wife at the end. No matter how one looked at it, it was a fair trade. However, with a love rival like himself, Ruan Zhan’s victory wasn’t assured.
“Don’t tell her.” Ruan Zhan suddenly said.
Wan Li nodded. He knew he was talking about the threat on his life, whether it was a year from now or the current Gu poison. Ruan Zhan didn’t want Xiao Xia to know any of it.
Xiao Xia slept rather peacefully. She was too exhausted and was also sleeping in the arms of her crush. Her sleep was naturally very sweet. However, she didn’t know that Ruan Zhan had long since carried her to bed and wrapped her in blankets. He also set up a protective boundary.
This was because a visitor had come to this remote octagonal building bright and early, putting the two men on alert. Yet when they went downstairs and saw that the intruder was the village chief, the three looked at each other in extreme astonishment. The village chief was startled because he didn’t expect there to be people in the octagonal building. Ruan Zhan and Wan Li hadn’t expected that the visitor was the village chief. They had assumed the person who came and regularly cleaned this place was Ah Wu. They didn’t expect there to be someone else.
“Why are you guys here?” The village chief recovered and seemed a little angry.
“I wasn’t feeling well that night and went to get checked at the hospital down the mountain. However, we still had unfinished business here so I could only come back up. But this guy….” Wan Li pointed at Ruan Zhan and told a little lie, “didn’t allow me to go disturb the village again. That’s why we moved in here. We thought this place was abandoned. Hopefully we didn’t offend you.”
Wan Li looked amiable and upright to begin with, and was very good with words. He immediately dispelled the chief’s anger. Although he was still a little displeased, he didn’t seem to be reproaching them anymore. He just looked doubtfully at their complexion. “Are you guys ok?”
“We’re…basically fine, but the one who came with us….”
“The young lady surnamed Yue?” The chief interrupted his words. “What’s happened to her? Ai, you guys shouldn’t move in to random places. The mountains isn’t like your city. If you randomly intrude, you will anger the spirits.”
Ruan Zhan and Wan Li exchanged a look of understanding.
“Is she seriously ill?” The chief was an extremely considerate and kind elder. Hearing Xiao Xia was unwell, he couldn’t help but worry. “Luckily we have Uncle Wu in the village who knows how to dispel Gu. Hurry and take her to him.”
“Dispel what Gu?” Wan Li held back the elder who was about to charge upstairs.
“Ai, you guys are foreigners and wouldn’t understand. This bamboo building is the bridge between the Yin and Yang realms. Prior to the emancipation, a powerful witch doctor lived here. All the villages in the mountain knew how powerful her magic was.” The chief started urgently explaining. “After she passed away, no one dared come to this place. The occasional interlopers were all afflicted with Gu. It’s a lot of suffering, especially for a delicate little lady.”
“Was this witch doctor called Ah Bai?” Although they wanted to get more information, Wan Li still didn’t want to lure this elder into telling the truth. He’d rather speak about things openly.
“The maiden name of the witch doctor must not be used carelessly. If…hey, how did you guys know?” The chief’s anxious expression became bewildered.
“This is what’s wrong with Xiao Xia.” Wan Li scratched his head. “Well, it’s not really something wrong. She had a strange dream. In it, a peerless beauty called Ah Bai….”
“Really? Is this true?” The chief interrupted Wan Li again, seeming both excited and afraid.
“Of course it’s true. She tossed and turned all night before finally falling asleep. Come, please sit. I’ll tell you everything. We would like your guidance on some matters!” Wan Li pulled the chief to the table in the middle of the first floor.
“What did the witch doctor’s dream reveal?” The chief immediately asked, seeming to worship this witch doctor.
“Let me tell you the truth.” Wan Li said solemnly. “We aren’t actually travelers. Instead…it’s not convenient to say it openly. I can only say that our job involves the law.”
Wan Li paused, thinking that he hadn’t lied. Xiao Xia’s job truly involved the law, and they were truly here because of the murder cases.
The chief made an “oh” sound and a hint of respect flashed in his eyes.
Wan Li hurriedly smiled and alleviated the chief’s nervousness. “Don’t be afraid. There’s no problem with the village. There were a few murder cases that happened where we live. After investigating, we discovered the victims died in the same manner as Ah Wang and his brothers.”
“Suffered the wrath of heaven like Ah Wang?”
“It wasn’t heaven’s wrath. Someone purposefully used Gu to kill them. Of course, these unfilial people deserved death, but our nation has laws. This can’t be permitted.”
“Was…was it someone from the village?” The chief asked weakly.
“It shouldn’t be. However, we have reason to believe the suspect is related to this village in some way. You have to keep this a secret.”
The chief nodded seriously.
“After investigating all over, we hadn’t been able to find any clues. But last night in Xiao Xia’s dream, the witch doctor Ah Bai gave us some enlightenment.”
“Who did it?”
“She didn’t say clearly. She just mentioned something about a bride jumping into the river, and said that if this Gu caster isn’t dealt with, he might harm others. She also mentioned someone called Ah Wu, something about a “love drug” and “drug spirit”.” Wan Li wasn’t sure how much the chief knew and didn’t dare hide anything. He could only reveal the contents of Xiao Xia’s vision and see if the chief could provide any clues.
After listening to Wan Li, the chief muttered to himself for a while before explaining the origins of the “love drug” and “drug spirit”.
It turns out the love drug was a type of Gu from the Susu Tribe. It was specially made by the women there to be given to their lover. They took the powder from where a bird suddenly dropped dead and turned it into Gu using a secret recipe. Giving it to their lover meant he would never have a change of heart. As for the cure, it’s said that a cat’s claw needed to be eaten, though in reality some accompanying secret medicine was probably needed as well.
As for drug spirits, those were also Gu raised by young, pretty women. Legend said that at night, this type of Gu would become a handsome man called the drug spirit, and live as husband and wife with the beauty who raised the Gu. The person raising the Gu had to frequently poison other people, especially children. These had to be offered to the drug spirit to maintain its state. Otherwise, it would die tragically.
This would explain Ah Bai and Si Ma Nan’s relationship. Yet why did Ah Bai mysteriously disappear? Also, who was the groom who also disappeared mysteriously?
Regarding this, the chief started to speak but hesitated.